1 hour 31 minutes
Rated PG-13 (Thematic Material Including Child Imperilment, Some Disturbing Images, Language and Brief Sensuality)
Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Starring Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry
4 out of 4 stars
THIS IS AN EARLY REVIEW. IN PHILLY THEATERS JULY 13th, 2012
Beasts of the Southern Wild is the best movie I’ve seen in 2012 so far. If you’re not a movie buff then I doubt you’ve heard of it. Well, PLEASE WATCH A TRAILER NOW AND SEE IT! It’s a movie of incredible beauty, utter originality, poetic lyricism, and an extraordinary performance from a little 6 year old girl named Quvenzhane Wallis (and don’t even ask me how to pronounce it. Note that there is an accent on the last e in her name but I don’t know how to do it on my laptop. I just don’t wanna disrespect her because I love her so much!). And yet it’s a small movie filmed on a grainy handheld camera with only minimal special effects. The fact that a movie this small feels so big is just amazing. It’s rare for a small movie to succeed at feeling so epic but Beasts of the Southern Wild nails it. The movie won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance last January as well as the Camera d'Or at Cannes last May. It’s already getting Oscar buzz, as well it should.
It’s a fable as well as a moving drama about a father and daughter’s relationship. Wallis plays Hushpuppy (love that name), a little girl living with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in a Delta community “at the edge of the world” blocked off by a levee with the whole rest of the world on the other side. WOW. Immediately I love that idea. This community is called “the Bathtub” and holds many other people. They hunt by themselves, go to school, have a hospital, and live perfectly happy lives. Yet the people living across the levee view the Bathtub people as savages. Hushpuppy soon has to learn to grow up and defend herself as three catastrophes approach her life. First off, her father has a mysterious illness that is making him weaker every day. Second, there’s a huge rainstorm that’s just happened that’s flooded the whole community and left them floating in cars and moving houses. Oh yeah, and lastly, the polar ice caps have just melted releasing a group of prehistoric wildebeest-looking creatures called aurochs (which according to wikipedia actually existed and are the ancestors of cattle).
I was so moved by Hushpuppy’s relationship with her father. He is an alcoholic, boisterous man but he has a right to be so strict with his daughter. Her life will always be in danger! She’s living in a community that’s basically eyed upon by the whole world! Also, her mother left the family by swimming across the water (so did she drown? You’ll find out). In one great scene a friend of the father teaches Hushpuppy how to cut open a crab. The father freaks out, slams the table, and yells at Hushpuppy that she should never cut open a crab but should pick it up and rip it apart with her strong muscles. She does so and he cheers like he’s the happiest person on Earth. Most of all the father is being so strict because he knows that he won’t be out there to look after his daughter for that much longer. There’s a heartbreakingly beautiful scene between the two of them at the end that left me as teary-eyed as ever. Wallis and Henry had never acted before this film. It looks like we’re gonna be seeing a lot more of them now.
So I’ve pretty much already emphasized how much I loved the originality of Beasts of the Southern Wild but I’ll say it again. I loved the originality of Beasts of Southern Wild. Movies don’t get more imaginative than this. I don’t know the director of the movie, Benh Zeitlin (probably because this is his first feature length film), but he understands how to make a shot simple yet beautiful. Just look at the picture at the top. It’s only a photo of Hushpuppy running with sparklers in her hands but seriously, I’d pay to have that photo blown up so I could hang it on my wall. The movie was filmed in southern Louisiana so it has the advantage of using the gorgeous jungle location of the state to make for a beautifully photographed motion picture. Best of all this is one of those great movies because it’s everything. It feels epic in scale. It’s funny. It’s moving. It’s sad. It’s thrilling. It’s quirky and unique. All of those qualities make for an incredible cinematic experience.
So obviously I can’t say it enough but it’s imperative that you check out this movie. I was lucky enough to see an early screening of it with one of the producers, Dan Janvey, in attendance for a Q & A. Just wait a few more weeks and you’ll be blown away.